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The Console Wars, or How Nintendo Failed its 1st Generation

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Nintendo, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Nin-ten-do: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Nin. Ten. Do.

In my lifetime, if there were a nostalgic image that could sum up pretty much all the good feelings and bad feelings about my childhood, it would be the original Nintendo Entertainment System. NES for short. Ninnie Ninnie Tennie Tennie Doey Doey to my friend John Martin from across the cul-de-sac.

I was the kind of kid who jumped Mario (from Super Mario Bros) with my entire body in real life. It brought me the greatest joy when I made it to level 8-1. The most anger when I couldn’t get past 1-4 in Kid Icarus. The most sadness when Final Fantasy 1 ended. The best sense of teamwork when we (bro and I) beat Crystalis. Yes, in those days there was nothing Nintendo did wrong except steal hours of my life away- but then again, I gave them willingly.

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I bought Gameboy, then Gameboy Color. I played Alleyway and Tetris constantly.

Sega Genesis came out, and since Super Nintendo hadn’t, we (my brother and I) got that. For a short time it was good. Games like Altered Beast, Sonic, Battletoads, and Streets of Rage 2 made it worthwhile. Finally Super Nintendo was released, and I could not wait to get my hands on the new system. I was die hard. I traded in one for the other, and was so pleased with the new console. Super Mario Kart was an addiction, and Final Fantasy III became my favorite game of all time. There was no stopping Nintendo.

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In November of 1994 the ill-fated Sega Saturn joined the console market. I had nothing against Sega, and even though their console met failure, I wished them well on their next try- which would be many years later. My friend Chris Baily drew the cartoon on the left in seventh grade, and it illustrates the dying brand. A month or so later the Sony Playstation arrived. I didn’t know too much about it and didn’t care. I was in love with my Super Nintendo ~ smiles ear to ear.

Like every other aficionado, I was excited for the release of the Nintendo Ultra. Later the name was dropped for 64 which surprised me a little, because a silly bit-number was definitely not as cool sounding as Ultra. A few rumors started going around about the weird new controller, and even that didn’t sway me. The first scare I had was when the management made an announcement that Nintendo would become more family-friendly.

In the past many of the games for the brand were for general audiences, but I never got the sense that they were specifically designed for children. When the Nintendo 64 came out, I knew something had gone awry at HQ. Mario 64 was unbelievably good, but the cartoon ‘look’ had been given a childlike appeal. Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, and Killer Instinct were some of the only mature games out there. I longed for poor taste titles like Rush ‘n’ Attack. Instead Mario Party came out in droves, and cemented my disdain for these so called “party games”. I wish I had never heard the term. Sure, they were selling more to younger audiences, but the gamer audience was getting lost in the fray. What this console solidified was that Nintendos were bought solely for their 1st party games. Thank goodness for Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros.

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Then something terrible happened. An announcement was made by Squaresoft that they were going to make Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation. The first thought I had was, “What the Hell? How did I not play the other three?” But soon my frustration became chagrin. I didn’t own a Playstation at all.

I blamed Squaresoft. How was I supposed to know any better? I was still young, and I didn’t know that Nintendo made it hard for third party companies to build software for them. Sony made different sorts of deals with its clientele, and Squaresoft made a simple business decision. In my eyes, though, they had become complete traitors to ‘the Nintendo Cause’. I didn’t even know there was a cause like that until it was spoken, and then I had a consumer’s grudge.

When Final Fantasy VII hit stores it was praised by critics everywhere. A friend of mine had the game so I watched the first cinematic sequence. It was unlike any 3D game animation I had ever seen, and I was smitten. I wanted to play it so badly, but I didn’t want to defect from Nintendo.

The illustration on the right was also created by Chris Baily. The theory behind it was to give Cloud a little bit of the Simon Belmont arrogance from Captain N the Gamemaster. It serves to portray how, as a youth, little things like this can have such a bizarrely serious impact. More importantly, it displays a young consumerist mind at work.

Six months went by, and I finally concocted a plan with my fellow author here Jamie Antonisse. The only way to give Squaresoft the middle finger while still buying the console and game was by paying for it in exact change. I know this makes no sense at all, but we were young. Our understanding of the word ‘Ironic’ still came from Alanis Morissette. So we took all the change we had accrued in our piggy banks over the last five years, counted out the cost to the last penny, put it in a lunchbox, and brought it to Toys ‘R’ Us.

It really didn’t hit us until we made it to the cash register with a Playstation and Final Fantasy VII that the joke would be on the cashier. It was her third day on the job, and two bitter Nintendites dropped pounds of change onto the counter. She had no idea what to do but count out the change. Her manager laughed at her misfortune. Jamie and I looked at each other puzzled. What had we done? The middle finger was pointed directly at ourselves. There was no vindication in our purchase, and money was just money to Squaresoft.

A few years went by, and the Sega Dreamcast came out. This was Sega’s Alamo, now cornered by two giants with Microsoft entering the arena as well, it seemed almost inevitable that this once titan was destined to fall. The real unfortunate part in retrospect was that Sega had actually kept Nintendo honest. Sega had been the edgier brother ~ always trying to do something just a little more bizarre than their counterpart. This console epitomized what made Sega great all those years. Crazy Taxi and Jet Grind Radio bring back some of my fondest memories to this day. I still hear the echoes from the former- “Let’s go make some CRaaazzzY Money!”. Even though it officially left the market in 2001, software companies continued to develop for this system until 2006. The strangest part of its history came recently in 2009, when a surge of Dreamcast sales proved that dead consoles never really die.

Either way I continued on to buy the PS2 because I knew they were going to have all the great third party games including Grand Theft Auto III. Rockstar Games changed the landscape of adult gaming for good with this one, and broadened the growing chasm between Sony and Nintendo. Or maybe it was Nintendo’s fault. It was here that I started looking at Nintendo’s decisions, and really wondering why they had stopped trying to appeal to me.

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I picked up the Gameboy Advance. Tried out the PSP. I played through Advance Wars in a week. This was all well and good, but I wanted to sink my teeth into another console.

Meanwhile at Nintendo HQ the Gamecube was being readied for stores. Miyamoto was claiming such brilliance and innovation, it was hard not to be excited for the arrival of his console. Then I played Luigi’s Mansion. Saying I was underwhelmed is a massive understatement. This console was barely a reinvention of the 64, which lacked luster to begin with.

Usually when a console comes out later the graphics have been made to a better standard, but the Gamecube was missing that update. A big claim to fame was the moderate price, but if you bought into the party games you’d end up spending all your money on controllers anyways. The worst part was that for the first year and a half I didn’t like a single game I bought. It was pitiful, and it left me with a sense of emptiness. Chris’s art on the right serves to portray how Nintendo got fat and lazy.

Where were all the great first party games I had been assured? What was I supposed to do with Mario Sunshine other than spit water everywhere? Why was it all getting kiddier? Was it just my getting older that caused the divide with Nintendo or did they stop caring about me? Finally I got Super Smash Bros Melee, but it was too little too late. Gamecube marked Nintendo’s first real failure.

When Microsoft announced the XBOX I was completely against it. Like any purist a gigantic conglomerate jumping into my market was unwanted. Then I started playing Halo at a friend’s house, and it was fantastic. The graphics on the system were stunning, and I knew it was time to make the switch. I watched DVDs on my XBOX and PS2 happily. Why I couldn’t do that on my Gamecube was yet another nail in the coffin.

Time passed and the juggernauts readied themselves for the next match up. XBOX 360 came out first to what I thought was a soft launch. The graphics were really terrific, but the games weren’t up to par just yet. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was still high on my list of things to play. The staying power of the GTA series after it’s finished is pretty unbelievable when I sit down to think about it.

That entire year I was waiting for the big one. The inevitable release of the Nintendo Wii. From what everyone was saying at E3, this would shake the gaming universe forever. I couldn’t wait to play it. As per usual with Nintendo it was lacking in titles for its launch, but that didn’t stop me from buying it on on day one, lining up at 5am, in the cold, in The Bronx. Wii Sports was fun as hell. The gaming experience was cool and different. The kinks in this celebrated demo would be resolved when a REAL game came out for the system- was what I thought at the time. But as new things trickled out they all seemed to reinforce how limited the controller was. Games of skill felt more like games of chance. Boxing felt more like flailing. WarioWare was fun, intentionally ADD, and held my attention for two days exactly. The more games I played, the more they all felt like WarioWare. I longed for longevity in my gameplay. The Wii’s focus had completely moved on from me as a gamer. I ended up where most frustrated NinVets do, the Virtual Console. I could play all the old games I still loved, but I was aching for something fun and new. After a long wait Mario Galaxy came out. It’s hard not to love, but one game for an entire console? It’s just not right.

I had a choice ~ Buy the way overpriced Playstation 3 with a few games, or buy the cheaper XBOX 360 with tons of games. I went 360 and left the last vestiges of my Nin-Faith at the door. Wii proved that Nintendo had turned its back on me. The 360 on the other hand seemed to be tailored for me. I bought into a live membership, tons of games, the Live Arcade, and was never happier.

It’s hard to believe I’ll ever be an XBOXite. It’s harder to believe I lost my Nin-Faith. I grew up with them, and I suppose as is this case with friendships, we just grew apart. It’s hardest to believe the importance I gave these console wars my entire life, but that’s my story. From one gamer to another.

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